Wednesday, 6 July 2011

That Whole Discussion About...

Women in SF.  Thought about this a lot.  Didn't write anything in any of the long conversations because mostly it felt like all the positions had been covered by someone else.  However, in conclusion to this phase I feel that there are two major factors operating across the board.

The first one is the old vision of Science Fiction as that emotionless thing with spaceships that men do as the mental equivalent of going out to the shed and tinkering.  This is a very strong and persistent meme which will probably be around a long time, not least because there is quite a bit of 'shedness' still in SF to act as exemplary material and many counterexamples have gone off to label themselves in other genres more suited to the readers they are aimed at.  This masks the real number of women writing SF. 

I realise the above is subject to the quota mark of 'How much SF does it take in a book to actually include it in the category' and I'm a liberal includer so this might not be much of a help.  But on to the next point which is -

I could be persuaded there is a gendered bias in operation here, but not just a socialised one, a biologically based one rooted in a few bell curves about how you prefer to perceive your world and what you think is important to notice.  It is possible that SF trends in the type of story, focus of characters and general tone plus content is genuinely not very attractive to a large part of the female population compared to, say, fantasy or paranormal romance or crime thrillers or modern novels.  So, given a wide choice of reading there is a trend towards picking out of our genre, even if many books inside it would be perfectly acceptable to those women. 

I tried some years ago to have a discussion about this with various people but it never got anywhere, mostly because I have no hard evidence about the above, only a lot of anecdotal observation and my own introspection.  Add that to the difficulty of articulating the subtleties of one's own perceptive framework and trying to weed out the learned from the innate and scientifically this has a long way to go before it's out the door. 

My thesis basically is that there is a very broad (and by no means all inclusive) trend that divides the genders in how they perceive reality which is based in the unconscious automatic processes through which certain things are selected as Important and Worthy of My Attention and other things are not.  I suspect that tendency is rooted in some ancient divisions which could probably be easily overridden in any individual lifetime by the judicious application of self awareness and inquisitiveness on the part of anyone.  But it's there, a maybe-genetic maybe-cultural legacy and it does determine the look and feel of the stories and writing that men and women produce and prefer.

Well, so far so bland, what to do?  Can't do anything about any of it, except continue to be open to ideas and help others to be the same.  For that reason I feel that both quotas and condemnation are unhelpful since both smack of control.  More flies with honey than vinegar, eh?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

White Rabbit Object

I'm back - late and rather quieter than before due to a horrible stomach bug but back and still internally leaping about with the giddy spring fever feeling I got last Thursday night when I realised that one of my books was in a glass display case at The British Library.  (Natural History, for those of you who wondered).  Am foolishly, madly thrilled and excited beyond all sane reason.  I wish my Dad could see it.

Anyhoo, that's enough about me.  The reason for my discovery and consumption of far too much free wine at said Library was the opening of the Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition.  This is something of a landmark moment for SF which has formerly often been treated with great condescension by literary establishment powers-that-be.  However, as China Mieville stated during his opening speech, it does rather look as though our alienation is over.  As much as we have been critically and socially dismissed it seems the era of the nerd is upon us and the culture is finally taking us if not to its heart then at least into its front parlour where we can be introduced to others.

Speaking as someone who was never outside the genre I have to say that this is both delightfully gratifying and at the same time deeply disturbing.  I used to have a long and bitter vengefulness against the literati - a nebulous set of non-named individuals, critics, writers and publishers who existed as a kind of cloud-computed object hovering at the limit of my awareness, unified and identified by their disparaging attitude to SF.   This acted like rocket fuel on my personal ambitions to write SF that wasn't only good in its own right but also kicked their butts on their own hallowed turf.  Spite as might?  You betcha.  And now?  Seems my task here is done...and not by myself really, but by the many other writers from both sides of the erstwhile divide who have been busy taking up each other's tools and crafting busily.  And by this exhibition which doesn't only suggest a history and evolution of SF which is generous and wide-ranging but also, by its existence, implies that it is safe to pop up from the rabbithole.

Why I go off in search of another hit of the crack that is artistic alienation (and I suspect I'll find it easily in that freshly renewed skirmish of They Might Be Writing SF But They'd Better Do It Properly) if you have the time and ability to do so there are weekly events as well as the exhibit itself to enjoy down at The Library.  And I would go to all of them if I lived in London.  If not you can still watch the Discovery Channel for their tie-in programming.

To. The.  Library...     *bounce*  *bounce*  *boing* 

(The title of this blog refers to the code that hacked the computers in Jurassic Park and let all the monsters out by the way.  It's a reference to the library exhibit, a white rabbit object of unknowable consequence...but I always like it when monsters get out.  Is our task really done?  No, not at all.  Even if the humanistic side of the task - to gain recognition as artistic equals - was a done deal the wider goal of producing mindbending fiction about our relationship to ourselves and our own machineries will never be over.  The T-Rex of SF is free to roam and ravage unhindered.)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


A friend, the lovely and talented Adrian Tchaikovsky, writer of fantasy, recently posted this link to me, because he knows I'm really interested in gaming and the way that it affects our lives, particularly because I'm a writer and many games are providing lots of experience and narrative that books and stories have to compete with.  Check it out.

The Escapist Gamification Video

At first I would have completely gone along with all of this - when I first encountered World of Warcraft years ago it seemed a really obvious trend.  But now, having played a lot more games and stuck with that one (with a few breaks) I'm not so sure. 

One thing  I have noticed is that Warcraft, just for example, is now as boring as a secretarial job, but for me as a has-no-time no-raid casual player, it also feels like being the secretary to a bunch of people higher up the ladder who are getting all the bonuses and dishing out all the crap.  Yes, you Leet people, I mean you.  Partly that's the grind mechanics of the game and partly the element of the player base who reacted most powerfully to the gamification tactics outlined in the above video.  It's Skinner evolution.  Well, ouchie.  This is borification.  I’m down now to RP as my only escape fun (am now pretty immune to reward systems of any kind) and that relies on other people turning up and having enough energy to think of a storyline - and if we had that we'd probably be doing something else anyway.  

So, by contrast, writing is now looking like an ultimate game pastime, just like it used to years ago when there was no telly worth watching except for the odd programme.  I can't even muster the enthusiasm to open the boxes on really great games that I already bought.  I'd rather read.  The rewards are so much better.

On the other hand if I did have to go back to work as a secretary I wouldn't mind game rewards for the filing etc.  I realise this is what a wage and bonuses are supposed to represent but perhaps they were never administered at a level you could see in operation in real time with a little progress bar and an achievement chart with lolcats on it.

I wait for the real world rewards of genuine social pleasure, or at least benign self interest, to reach out and eat gamification.  But then, I am getting old and cranky and have been inured by years of service to the machine.  What do y'all think?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aussie Rules

Finally the schools are back in session and I have time to write my report on Swancon/Natcon 2011, held in Perth WA.  They were kind enough to invite me as their guest and I had the most wonderful time.  Not only was the hotel all spanking new and special (Hyatt Perth) with the nicest staff I've ever come across but from the con committee to the WA fandom everyone was just so darn lovely!  Was there something in the water?  I prefer to imagine all Australians are simply like this and it wasn't all because they had to be nice to me - so nobody shatter my illusions...

Also guest starring there was Ellen Datlow, The Editor (she gets caps for her epic status), who was a teacher of mine back at Clarion West in 1996.  We had a lot of fun catching up on old times and making new friends from the Australian community.  Since neither of us look a day older than we did in 1996 it's hard to believe we've come so far in our careers :P  And appearing with us was the delightful Sean Williams - where has he been...oh, in Australia, right...  But for you Ausfans from the UK, mark your calendar for June 4, he and Garth Nix are appearing at Hay-on-Wye.  (And I'm there on the 3rd as part of How The Light Gets In!).  So don't miss us!

We met up with Aussie horror writer Kaaron Warren and went on an exploratory shopping trip around Perth's antique shops (mostly closed due to holiday weekend alas) but we found the most cute and unusual dresses in one of the weirder stores.  If you have been at a loss as to what to do with Auntie Edna's embroidered tablecloths or would like to look cute in unique vintage items check out this lady's designs at Unsunkfunk.  For the crazy shoe people in you I also attach this link to Robert Tabor's Site though it has nothing to do with Australia - Ellen this link is specially for YOU!

And lest you think it was all clothesmania, frippery and champagne I can confirm reports that weighty discussions were had about the state of publishing, feminism in SF and all that other interesting jazz, not to mention the late night chinwagging and wine swigging that feeds the soul even as it pickles the liver.  More about these meat-feast topics in later blog posts however.  For today the children are in school and I have to actually write something....oo novel experience!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Short Story Collection

Yay, great news!  A collection of my best short fiction, introduced by Adam Roberts and published by Russell B Farr of Ticonderoga Press, Australia, will be available as of next week.

The book launch party will be held at Swancon next week where I am the Guest of Honour.  I am madly overexcited at the idea of going to Australia!  Please come and visit if you are near Perth and join the party.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Reddit...Kraken by China Mieville

I've been a long time fan of China's work ever since he were a nipper at t'Macmillan along with me back at the turn of the millennium and I'm glad to say that although some of his books haven't really been up my street they've never been disappointing.  Kraken however, was not only up my street it was virtually in our house and has gone straight into my Top Books category.

What I loved most about this book was the fact that it has the feeling of being a unique, complete whole artistic project - it is what it is at every level, with the language and structure contributing as much as the storyline, the characters and the premise.  It reminded me very much of Mike Harrison and Mervyn Peake's work with its vision of a reified spiritual topology coming across with a relentless cohesive power that's rare in anyone's work.   To read it was to be transported into a wonderful, awesome version of reality that was rich, intriguing and satisfying with its highly contemporary vision of religious belief and deep intuitive understanding of magic.  It's full of superlative moments of fun as well as one of the best female characters I've come across in modern SFF, the deliciously rebellious and vulgar Collingswood.

Having said that the sheer density of the experience is quite something and I did need to counteract the effect with 4 light romance novels to balance myself out while I was reading it - so that's a 4 on the Crusie Scale, one of the many personal parameters I'll be introducing as a way of evaluating the experience of reading. 

The Crusie Scale is named after wonderful romance author Jennie Crusie whose humorous, earthy trips to the Land of Hearts-Entwined provide the necessary uplift for me to counter the massive, broody power of levianthic texts like Kraken.  It is not intended as a critical scale, it's just a measure of balance.  Kraken is a huge, delicious intellectual and emotional trawl through the deeps of the spirit and mind.  It requires the witty warmth of 4 Crusies (and a Crusie can be any book delivering similar fodder for the soul) to counteract its benthic power for me.  That's a really high score by the way, signifying the sheer mass of Kraken.

I will have to invent some more scales for various other effects.  If you have any ideas for similar kinds of scales, why not let me know?

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A small step for a woman, a giant step for me...

This is my new blogsite - welcome!  I am planning to post here reasonably regularly, giving updates on my writing and reading and related interests.  This blog replaces my previous blog, Musapaloosa, which existed on LiveJournal.  It is still under construction, both in design and contents, so there will be more to come.  I could say the same about me :) 

Thanks for dropping by!